Table of Contents
1 - Visiting Grandpa Jones
2 - The Secret of Life
3 - The Secret of Death
1 - Visiting Grandpa Jones
"Hi, Grandpa," Brie called in greeting as she pushed her way into the hospital room.
Ben Jones looked up at the movement he caught out of the corner of his eye, and smiled. Brie was the youngest of three grandchildren, and the only one he seemed to have a connection with. She had turned eighteen the month before, and was looking forward to her high-school graduation in a few short months.
He suppressed a frown as a young man followed her into the room. The young man's hand was resting possessively on her shoulder. At least he was carrying the bundle of magazines, that was the reason for the visit, in his other hand. Some of her previous boyfriends would have been content to let Brie carry the load.
Ben closed the book he had been reading, one of the tomes from the 'Wheel of Time' series. He had read the series, and listened to it on audio, more than once. Still, a good book was like a fine wine. It never got old.
Brie was speaking again, and Ben held up one finger in a gesture to wait, as he adjusted his hearing aid with his other hand.
"What was that again, Brie?" Ben asked.
Brie laughed and teased, "Grandpa, why don't you leave your hearing aids turned up? That way you can hear when people talk to you."
Ben shrugged and said, "Old folk's hearing gets bad so they don't have to listen to idiots. It's one of the benefits of old age. I think bad hearing is compensation for our lack of patience with idiots. Why mess with a reprieve like that? I only turn them up when there's someone that I want to listen to."
"You don't turn them up when Uncle Daniel visits," Brie pointed out.
"I think you just made my point," Ben said with a chuckle. "It's good to see you Brie."
"It's good to see you, too, Grandpa," Brie said warmly, smiling with him at his reference to her uncle.
She bent over the bed and carefully hugged the old man through the wires connecting him to a panel of machines, before kissing him on the forehead.
"What have they got you in for, this time," Brie asked light heartedly.
"Manners, Brie," Ben said in mild reproof.
"Sorry, Grandpa," the girl said, smiling at the correction.
She loved the way her Grandpa Jones corrected her. He had always been a stickler for manners, but didn't talk the subject to death. The few times she had ignored his warnings, he had simply told her they could talk more when she learned manners, and tuned her out. He always had time to explain things to her, but insisted on good manners at all times.
"This is Jimmy," Brie continued in introduction. "He drove me to the hospital so we could go to a movie when we leave here."
"It is good to meet you, Jimmy," Ben responded, reaching out with an unencumbered hand to shake the young man's hand. "You can call me Grandpa Jones, or Sir," he added.
"Um ... It's good to meet you, too, Sir," Jimmy replied hesitantly.
"Dad asked me to bring these magazines to you," Brie said, gesturing towards the bundle that Jimmy still carried. "Why are you in the hospital, again? Dad didn't mention anything about a heart attack or anything."
Ben got a serious look on his face before asking, "Do you remember when I had a pacemaker installed?"
Brie nodded, and Ben continued, his voice solemn, "Well, with all the taxes and fees, I couldn't afford to buy the pacemaker. All I could afford was to rent it. I got behind on my payments, so they repossessed it."
There was silence in the room for a moment. Jimmy's eyes grew large at the concept of a pacemaker being repo'd. Brie's eyes grew narrow, and she frowned at her Grandpa.
"You're messing with me, again," she accused.
Ben's solemn expression dissolved into a chuckle before he said, "Yeah, honey. I'm messing with you. I'm just in for some fine-tuning. They want to monitor me while they tune me up."
"So ... is anything wrong?" Brie asked.
"Honey, I wouldn't have had to stay overnight if I was some old clunker Ford. Tuning a high performance race car like this," he said, gesturing towards his chest, "Takes more time."
"Oh, Grandpa," Brie said with a laugh, sitting on the side of his bed, and squeezing his arm. "Nothing ever gets you down."
"You can set those magazines on the stand, Jimmy," Ben said, while laughing with his Granddaughter. "Have a seat, son."
Looking back at Brie, he said, "Why should I let things get me down? I know the Secret of Life!"
Brie rolled her eyes and looked at Jimmy before saying, "I know I'm going to regret this." She looked back at her Grandpa and asked, "Okay, I'll bite. What is the Secret of Life?"
"I can't tell you!" Ben answered, acting shocked that she would ask. "It wouldn't be a secret!"
"Grandpa," Brie said warningly. "You started this so you have to finish it. That's what you always tell me."
"Okay ... Okay," Ben grumped.
He looked at the closed door furtively, then gestured for Brie to come closer, including Jimmy in the invitation. His granddaughter leaned closer, and Jimmy scooted closer so both their heads were nearer to Ben's.
"The Secret of Life is ... we're all going to die," Ben said in a stage whisper, but his voice was very serious.
2 - The Secret of Life
"Huh?" Jimmy questioned, sitting back in confusion.
"Oh, Grandpa," Brie said with a frown. "That isn't a secret! You had better not be going senile on me," she warned.
"I'm not going senile," Ben protested. "It's true. That's the Secret of Life. We're all going to die, so there's no reason to be afraid any longer."
"Everybody knows we're all going to die, Sir" Jimmy said, momentarily forgetting his status around the old man that the girl he liked cared so much for.
"That's where you're wrong, young man," Ben corrected sternly. "Everybody doesn't know. They may know, intellectually," he said, pointing to his head, "But they don't know emotionally," he continued, pointing at his heart.
"I don't think I understand," Brie complained.
"Okay," Ben said with a sigh. "Let me try to explain, but there are a couple of concepts that you need to understand for the explanation to make sense. The first concept that you need to grasp is the question of when we will die. The 'immediateness' of the event."
His granddaughter and her boyfriend exchanged confused glances before Brie turned back and waited for her Grandpa to continue. She was used to his explanations being convoluted. They were confusing sometimes, but understanding often came to her later, and she was glad that she had listened. And they were always fun.
"Nobody knows when they'll die," Brie pointed out.
"Exactly!" Ben exclaimed happily, as if Brie had just announced the Secret of Life. "Nobody knows when they'll die," he continued. "Right now, there could be a terrorist getting ready to set off a nuclear bomb in the next building, or there could be a gas leak in the basement of this building."
He reached towards his watch on the stand beside his bed with his unencumbered hand. Brie hurried to grab the watch, and hand it to him, not noticing the hand with all the tubes plugged in moving the seven hundred page book he had been reading, near the opposite side of the bed.
Ben picked up his watch, and looked at it before continuing with, "We could all be blown up, and everyone in this hospital killed, when that bomb explodes in..."
"Zero," he said, while simultaneously dropping the large book off the side of the bed.
Both of the youngsters jumped at the loud crack of the book hitting the floor.
"Grandpa!" Brie yelped in reproof. "That wasn't nice!"
"Why?" Ben asked. "You said that you already knew that you were going to die. Would you have done anything differently in that ten seconds if you really believed it?"
"It's not the same thing!" Brie protested.
"Really?" Ben asked in surprise. "Okay," he said, seeming to agree. "Maybe it's the immediacy of the 'when' that is making this hard to understand. Let me try to explain it a different way. Which one of you is driving today?"
"I am, Sir," Jimmy said, suddenly feeling uncomfortable about being the focus of the old man's attention.
Ben nodded and said, "Thirty minutes after you leave today, you are driving along and are t-boned by a semi going about eighty miles an hour. The driver is high on meth, and he's trying to get to his dealer before he closes for the weekend. You're both killed. If you know it's going to happen, what will you do differently for the next thirty minutes?"
"Take a bus home," Brie volunteered.
"I don't know," Jimmy volunteered. "Try to figure out how to avoid it, I guess."
"Nope and nope," Ben said. "Once the future is revealed, there's nothing you can do to change it. Not knowing the future is what allows us to have free will. You know about what will happen in thirty minutes, but not about anything that happens until then. What will you do differently than you would do normally? Would you treat people differently? Would you do things differently?"
"Probably," Brie said thoughtfully.
"I think so," Jimmy agreed cautiously.
He had learned that agreeing with Brie was usually a pretty safe bet.
"Don't get me wrong," Ben said in warning. "I don't know the future, but that semi is obviously more of a possibility than that bomb going off. I hope it doesn't happen." He smiled at the teenagers before saying, "Jimmy, I hope you die a hundred years from now, running from a jealous husband with a turbo charged walker. And Brie, I hope you're there to watch the race. The point is, either of you could die at any point between those two extremes. The big question is, if you would do something different if you knew that you were going to die in thirty minutes, then why wouldn't you do the same things if you didn't know when that inevitable event would occur? The difference between thirty minutes and thirty years looks pretty big from your point of view. It's considerably smaller from mine."
"So... " Brie began, then paused in thought. "We should live as if we're going to die in thirty minutes?"
"You should plan your future as if you're going to live for thirty, sixty, or a hundred years," Ben explained. "But live each moment as if it were your last. Each moment is precious, so live it, because you never know when a moment will be your last." He shrugged and rhetorically asked, "Why get upset about hearing going bad?" he asked, gesturing towards his ears. "Or anything else that you can't change. Sure, do what you can to compensate, like hearing aids, then find a way to make it work for you. I like having hearing aids. My batteries can die, and I don't have to listen to idiots."
"I'll have to think about this," Brie said thoughtfully.
"How would our lives, or the world, be different, if everyone lived and acted as if the present moment could be their last on earth?" Ben prompted.
"But what happens next?" Jimmy interrupted, ignoring the teaching moment. "I mean, you said you knew the Secret of Life, so shouldn't that include knowing what happens after life ... you know ... when you die?"
"Are you alive after you die?" Ben asked with raised eyebrows.
"Umm ... No," Jimmy answered.
"Then how could the Secret of Life apply after you die?" Ben asked.
"I ... um ... I don't know," Jimmy stammered. "I just thought..."